Vol. 10 No. 2 (Fall 1989)

A PALPABLE HIT: A STUDY OF THE IMPACT OF REUBEN SHIP'S THE INVESTIGATOR

Gerry Gross

Reuben Ship (1915-1975), a Canadian scriptwriter working in Hollywood during the fifties, was blacklisted after being accused of being a Communist by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951 and deported to Canada. In 1954, The Investigator, Ship's radio drama satirizing McCarthyism, was broadcast by the CBC. This study uses relevant files of the U.S. Department of Justice and the CBC, as well as other materials from the period, to assess the impact of the work in Canada and the USA.

Reuben Ship (1915-1975), scripteur canadien travaillant à Hollywood durant les années 50, fut mis à l'index après avoir été accusé d'être communiste par le House Committee on Un-American Activities en 1951 et fut déporté au Canada. En 1954, la CBC a radiodiffusé The Investigator, satire radiophonique de Ship sur le mccarthyisme. La présente étude fait l'examen des dossiers pertinents du Départment américain de la Justice et de la CBC de même que d'autres documents de cette période afin d'évaluer l'influence de cette oeuvre au Canada et aux Etats-Unis.

Reuben Ship (1915-1975), who was born and raised in Montreal, was a successful Hollywood scriptwriter from 1943 to 1951 as part of the team which created The Life of Riley, a popular situation comedy series for radio. Ship had been raised in modest circumstances. His father earned his living as a tailor and, after immigrating to Canada, had settled his family in the working-class district which provides the background for a number of stories and novels set in Montreal of that period, most notably, perhaps, Mordecai Richler's St. Urbain's Horseman.

As an adolescent, Ship was hospitalized for nine months with osteomyelitis; he read voluminously while there, and later at McGill University he studied literature and served as Drama Editor for the McGill Daily. His essays for the Daily were often polemical, insisting that the artist has a responsibility to improve society,1 and Ship followed his own dictum in writing political satire in the form of revue sketches and song lyrics for University shows. He also performed for the YM-YWHA Little Theatre and the New Theatre Group,2 both highly successful community theatres whose choice of productions reflected the struggles of the Depression and the threat of Nazi Germany-concerns which helped to form Ship's values.

Ship wrote topical revue material for a troupe, selected mainly from the previously noted theatre groups which played resorts in the Catskill Mountains during the summer of 1940. When the troupe disbanded in the fall, some of its members went into the armed forces, but Ship's health made him ineligible.3 In 1941 he went to New York to begin his professional career. In doing so, he followed a great many Canadians who saw no promise of work at home. Moreover, according to a widely-held attitude, to prove one's mettle an artist had to succeed in the USA, which produced virtually all the films and professional (touring) theatre and over eighty percent of the radio programs and periodicals distributed in Canada.4

His first year in New York was difficult, but in 1942 several of his sketches appeared in a revue called It's About Time which was given a strong enough production at a Pennsylvania resort to attract a New York producer.5 He brought the show to the Barbizon Plaza Theatre in Manhattan, and while it soon closed, Ship's work was noted. Soon afterwards the agent, George Willner (who was later jailed as one of The Hollywood Ten for refusing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities) brought Ship to Irving Brecher, the producer of The Life of Riley. Ship became one of the two chief writers of the radio series until it was transferred to television in 1951,6 and until he ran afoul of the law which required the deportation of communist aliens.

By this time Ship was married, and his three daughters had been born in California and attended local schools. He had learned his craft well and had a reputation as a capable professional. He was a member of the Radio Writers Guild, which was struggling with issues raised by the emergence of television and by the bitter political discord of the time; and while not in the forefront of that struggle, he became involved-with serious consequences for himself and his family.

In his Preface to a new edition of Ship's radio play The Investigator, Howard Fink has succinctly described the historical context to which this satire is tightly related.7 These were years (1947-57) when American opinion was polarized by the Cold War and by the policies of the successive administrations of presidents Truman and Eisenhower as they struggled to deal with the Korean conflict and the startling discovery of extensive Soviet espionage in the USA. This was fertile ground for politicians to mine, and several congressman became self-appointed investigators of communist-inspired subversion in the country.

Joseph McCarthy, a young Republican Senator from Wisconsin, was the most controversial of these crusaders, partly because he claimed that his unscrupulous and abusive tactics against suspected citizens were justified by the Cold War and the goals of Soviet policy, and partly because of his success in manipulating the media. In 1952, as Chairman of the Permanent Subcomittee on Investigations, McCarthy launched a noisy investigation of the State Department, claiming that it had failed to route out subversive or incompetent officials, and he later went after the U.S. Army with similar charges.

On 12 July 1947, in the aftermath of the first visit to Hollywood by the House Committee on Un-American Activities' (HUAC), a great many people in the community remained outraged, Ship among them. He agreed, imprudently, as it turned out, to speak at a rally sponsored by the Hollywood Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions on the topic of 'thought control.' The ASP was prominent on lists of communist-infiltrated groups compiled by state and federal-level watch-dog and investigative organizations.8 Ship's speech entitled 'Radio in a Free Culture' was noted by an FBI agent, whose report summarized it as follows: '. . . present day American radio industry is a product solely of American business and capital and is thereby controlled by the National Association of Manufacturers. He [Ship] continually referred to what he called anti-Semitic, anti-labour and pro-fascist programs which are broadcast during the present time.' In this report Ship's thinking is oversimplified and the contents of his speech at least partly misrepresented. In fact, Ship did present documented evidence for the conclusion that, in order not to offend, commercially sponsored radio ignored real issues and whole parts of the population,9 hardly a Marxist notion exclusively.

Other reports in the FBI files on Ship note that he was active in disputes over policy within the Radio Writers Guild (RWG), which is described there as having been infiltrated by communists, and that he was an alternate member of the Board in 1947.10 Taken as a whole, the contents of the file make it clear that Ship was among those in the RWG who opposed the traditional organizational structure of the networks which gave control over content to advertisers and network heads. In the late forties, when the networks failed to oppose HUAC and other right-wing organizations which insisted that writers take loyalty oaths or be fired, the resentment of these authors turned to contempt. Their anger was further increased when the networks began to blacklist authors, performers and directors on the basis of their political convictions. The FBI reports in Ship's file are based on evidence supplied by Martin Berkeley, a member of the Guild who concurred with these methods of combatting communism, and who wrote an article maintaining that the leadership of the RWG were Communists and that their purposes were subversive.11

This conflict was further complicated by the struggle between RWG and the Screen Writers Guild. The latter favoured blacklisting and loyalty oaths and fought the RWG for the right to represent television writers because it was evident to both that television would soon become the dominant medium.12 It seems fair to conclude that Ship was caught up in and victimized by a struggle within the Guild which paralleled those in America at large; and that powerful political forces decided the outcome.

With this background, Ship was vulnerable; and so, four years later when HUAC went to Hollywood for the second time he was hauled before it. He was not penitent. Ship called the Committee members witchhunters. Then he recited a famous passage from Jefferson which he had apparently memorized for the occasion.13 The Committee waited out Ship's oration, '. . . if there be any among us who wish to dissolve this Union ... let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it'; and then Representative Francis D Walter rejoined, 'Who [sic] do you think you're kidding.' Ship did not forget that exchange; three years later, he inserted it, including even Walter's grammatical error, into his satire, where it characterized the Investigator's villainous capacity to repudiate Jefferson's principles.14 Doing so must have satisfied Ship because Walter sank still lower in Ship's opinion. In the interim between the hearing and the play, Walter co-sponsored the McCarran Act (the Internal Security Act of 1952) directed against leftist aliens, and then defended it on the floor of the House, insisting that most of the opposition to the act had come from '... professional Jews shedding crocodile tears ...'15 HUAC was unimpressed, and Ship was dismissed almost as soon as it was clear that he would not say what the Committee wanted him to say.

By this time the Immigration and Naturalization Service had already begun the task of ridding the nation of Ship. Witnesses Paul Marion and Owen Vincent were found to testify that he had been present for at least six meetings of an organization sometimes called 'The Radio Writers Club' and at other times other names, that he paid fees to the Communist Party, and that he served the party as 'literature director.'16 These 'reliable' ex-communists, as they are described by the FBI, supplied conflicting testimony on the activities of the Club and on whether or not members had party cards, but their testimony was enough to convince the official in charge. Ship went to Washington to appeal the verdict, but it was swiftly denied.17 At this point his chronic osteomyelitis worsened, requiring an operation. A stay of the order for deportation was granted and reissued several times. An agent was sent to the hospital and reported that the subject was still not fit to travel, but as soon as he was, the order to surrender was given.18

Ship was deported to Canada after two years of harrowing legal procedures which made a mockery of due process. The Immigration and Naturalization Service completed its riddance ritual on 20 July 1953.19 Having notified the press that the pariah was about to be ostracized, they handcuffed and transported him under guard across the country by plane and train to Detroit. After a night in the ward of a prison hospital which resembled a secular hell, they put him in a paddy wagon and drove him over the bridge to Windsor. A few days later, Ship wrote an eight-page description of the experience which ends, 'I . . . was a free man again. I don't mean merely free physically of my guards. I felt keenly a sense of personal freedom. I was light-hearted and tremendously elated. I had shed a heavy burden of anxiety and fear.... I got into a cab and said, "Driver, take me to the nearest liquor store."'20

About a year after his return to Canada Ship wrote a biting dramatic satire for radio directed at McCarthyism and at the investigations of which he had first-hand knowledge. His imagination transformed these experiences into a nightmarish fantasy, which he called The Investigator, and it struck a chord which resonated widely when the CBC broadcast its production of the play in May 1954.

While the impact of the work was partly due to its imaginative form, it was also the result of the excellence of the production, directed by Andrew Allan for CBC Stage, a popular and widely respected weekly series of hour-long dramas. The production featured an extraordinarily lifelike imitation of Joe McCarthy by John Drainie and a strong supporting cast. Equally important, the influence of the show was due to the timing of the broadcast at nearly the midpoint of the Army-McCarthy hearings.21 The climax of the thirty-six days of hearings which ended McCarthy's career came in a dramatic episode on 9 June.22 The hearings were televised in the USA and many Canadians watched the broadcasts or listened on radio, so that on 30 May, when The Investigator was broadcast, interest was high, and McCarthy and the controversies around him were familiar to audiences.

Ship had a genius for parody and the genesis of the plot of The Investigator can probably be seen in that disposition. It is a parodic transformation of the congressional hearings from the halls of government to the gates of heaven. At the same time, it was Ship's shaping of the marathon hearings then being shown on two of the major television networks in the U.S.A. After a plane crash, McCarthy finds himself at heaven's gate. The Gatekeeper informs him that he must be investigated by the Committee on Permanent Entry before he can be admitted. But his fame as an investigator has preceded him, and the Committee invites him to lead its investigation of the Gatekeeper whom they believe to have admitted subversives 'Up Here' instead of sending them 'Down There.' The Committee is composed of Torquemada, Cotton Mather, Titus Oates and George Jeffreys, the Hanging Judge of the Bloody Assizes. Ship contrives a good deal of sly fun with these characters as he skilfully handles the exposition to introduce the Committee as the McCarthyites of their own time.

Oates leads the Committee in: 'My name, sir, is Oates, Doctor of Philosophy,'23 which, of course, as a school drop-out, he was decidedly not; but it is true that at the height of his seventeenth-century popularity (which he earned whipping up anti-Catholic hatred by warning Protestants of non-existent Jesuit plots to usurp Charles II), he was notorious for parading about in ecclesiastical robes while referring to himself as the saviour of the nation. Oates continues: 'And this is another distinguished member of our-ah-profession-so to speak, Mr. Cotton Mather -formerly of Massachusetts.' The Investigator is impressed with a man so closely associated with America's first celebrated witch hunt, and he says so. When he seems less impressed with George Jeffreys, Oates hastens to add, 'His Lordship's fame would have been instantly known to you had I presented him as . . . the Hanging Judge . . . formerly of the Bloody Assizes.' Now the Investigator is impressed, and apologizes, 'I should have remembered the name, Judge.' But Ship makes Oates add nastily, 'No need for apology. So few people do,' in this way permitting Oates to repay Jeffreys for the harsh sentence he passed on Oates for instigating the Popish plot. Oates then introduces Torquemada as 'the Inquisitor General of the Inquisition.' With that, Ship's characterization of the Committee is complete.

The Investigator conducts a series of hearings in a travesty of McCarthy's manner, to which are called characters illustrious in history for their championing of freedom of thought. Socrates, Milton, Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Voltaire, and others speak their famous words, and they are condemned as subversive by the twisted logic of the Committee. One by one they are deported from Up Here. Satan is enraged and rises from Down There to stop the deportations because they are destabilizing his rule. He complains '. . . Jefferson and Milton are calling for a Congress; Martin Luther and John Stuart Mill are making speeches about the rights of the damned ... and that madman Socrates keeps asking me if I know what virtue is.'24 Inevitably, for this is also a burlesque in tragic form, the protagonist overreaches himself by ordering an investigation of the Chief. Committee members try to stop him, but he persists in destroying himself. Rejected in heaven and hell, he is found at the base of the mountain at which his plane had crashed, mumbling insanely, 'I am the Chief.' The reference to the 'Chief' is doubly amusing for its ambiguity. As a political allusion it refers to Eisenhower, formerly chief of European Operations for the Allies and President from the previous January. But in the geography of Ship's fantasy, the action takes place in heaven, and its Chief is too awesome to mention. Therefore, when the Investigator cries 'I am the Chief' at the end of the play, Ship has made a clever travesty of McCarthy's arrogant pretention to political leadership.

The impact of the CBC production of the play, if impact is understood to refer to documented responses of individuals or groups, began during the broadcast itself. Barry Morse, who played the role of the Gatekeeper, recalls that the switchboard was busy taking calls from listeners who tuned in late and believed that the play was a documentary.25 More considered reactions, both pro and con (the former outweighed the latter by a considerable margin) can be noted during the following year or so.

CBC officials retained some evidence in their own files. There are letters to and from listeners, internal memos and other documents now on file (along with the original script and the broadcast version) at the Centre for Broadcasting Studies at Concordia. In a letter written the day after the broadcast, a Vancouver man protested that The Investigator was in the worst possible taste: 'How would you have regarded a caricature on an American network of a Canadian figure and in the same distorted and politically dangerous vein?' This type of response was officially put forward when, on 4 June, Frank Lennard, Tory M.P. for Winston and a car dealer in Windsor, rose in the House of Commons to ask a rhetorical question during the annual House debate on CBC budget appropriations: '. . . I have a question which I should like to put to the Minister [of Communications]. It deals with Mr. Reuben Ship, who was the author of the C.B.C. program "The Investigator" put over "Stage 54" last Saturday. Did the Minister or the officials of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation know that Mr. Ship was deported from the United States during the past year or two?' Lennard continued, 'If the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation did not know about this man, it is about time that they did, and it is about time they screened the employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to see whether they have any employees who should not be there.'26 The very well informed Minister replied that Ship was a freelance author and that CBC took only the responsibility of accepting and broadcasting the script. The Minister's ready answer clearly implies that the Government had heard about the production and that it had determined its safest course of action was to do nothing at all. CBC files concerned with the production contain several hints as to what took place.

There is a brief and intriguing memo, dated 1 June, written by Raymond Daniel, Chief Canadian correspondent of The New York Times, thanking an unnamed person for lending him the script, and noting that he had passed it on (presumably as previously arranged) to Mr. D.P. Cole of the Department of External Affairs. On that same date there appeared, not surprisingly, in The New York Times a short review of the CBC production which cheerily imagined Canadians chuckling over Ship's witty play and John Drainie's provocative portrayal of McCarthy.27 It seems likely that the script was requested by External Affairs, which passed it on to the Minister responsible for Communications with the suggestion that he digest CBC policy on freelance authors. Perhaps the most interesting part of the explanation of this little mystery of a Minister's preparedness, is that the Canadian Government already had a file on Ship going back an undetermined period. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has in its files a copy of its reply in which it agreed to a request from its Canadian counterpart that Ottawa be informed of the date and place of Ship's deportation to Canada.28 It does appear that the Minister had all the data he needed with which to prepare himself for negative reactions to the controversial play. Not that he needed much support, because, in general, the response was positive.

Ira Dilworth, Ontario Regional Director of Programmes, wrote to Charles Jennings, Director of Programme Planning in Ottawa, describing audience response to The Investigator as enthusiastic. 'It has included calls from people practically begging us to repeat the show. There have been long-distance calls from quite a few Americans . . . including [one from] a doctor in Detroit who wired the three U.S. networks, asking them to give a performance of The Investigator.' Indeed, the interest of U.S. networks would become clear within six months, but not in broadcasting the show. In the meanwhile Canadians, some of them in important positions, signalled their pleasure. The Minister of Education of Saskatchewan and the Director of the Alberta Bible Institute both wrote to congratulate the Corporation. In a letter to George Young, Director of Station Relations for the Corporation, Mr. John Johnson, editor and publisher of a daily in Watertown, New York and owner of two radio stations, praised everything about the production, but he had something else on his mind. After describing the many contacts he and his family had enjoyed with prominent Canadians going back two generations, he requested a tape of the show with the assurance that he most certainly had no plans to exploit it. In his reply, Young explained why he had to refuse the request, and then he added, 'There is a possibility of my visiting your fair city three weeks from now. If you are in town, I would like to spend a few minutes with you.' The spontaneous offer of friendship from a stranger might have appeared surprising for a moment, but it seems more than likely that Mr. Johnson soon realized he was going to get his tape. Perhaps, in this instance, and in others like it, the CBC overlooked its own policies with certain consequences which did not displease it.

For example, there is a packing slip in the correspondence file, noting that a 2400 foot tape of The Investigator was shipped in error to Vancouver where it was received by a person with an unreadable signature. Whatever the reason for this shipment or for others for which there is no record, by the end of the year there were reports of bootleg tapes of The Investigator circulating in New York and elsewhere.29 In fact, several years later, Ship wrote about reports that tapes of the show were selling for over a hundred dollars each, but he never said where the tapes came from.30

On 31 December 1954, Jack Gould devoted the whole of his regular column in The New York Times to an article about the appearance of an LP recording on the Discuriosity label of a 'bootlegged' version of the CBC production of The Investigator. 31 Gould had done some research and had located Walter Colquitt and John Bubbers, the proprietors of B&C Records, producers of the recording. They claimed they had made all the legal arrangements necessary for the duplication of the CBC production with Reuben Ship and the unions representing the performers and musicians. Beyond that, Bubbers and Colquitt declined to provide any information. Gould then went on to provide a glowing account of the record, noting, however, that he was apprehensive because 'The disc may stir up quite a fuss on the radio, political and diplomatic fronts.' He added that he had contacted CBC officials who were also anxious that the disc might lead to an international incident. He completed the article with an interesting note, 'A spokesman from the Little White House in Augusta, Ga. declined to comment on reports that President Eisenhower had heard and enjoyed the recorded version of the program, which has never been broadcast in this country.'

The rumoured taste for satiric drama by the residents of the White House was further embellished about a month later by a report in The New Republic. TRB's column included a paragraph describing a hurriedly called cabinet meeting at which Eisenhower had played The Investigator to the surprise and mutual delight of all present. The notice also extolled the production and compared the script to Animal Farm. 32 These were the reasons, it was explained, that the show was a sensation in Washington where it was selling like 'hot cakes.' CBC officials were discreetly delighted too. Frank Peers, Supervisor of Talks and Public Affairs, took this article and an admiring review by Marya Mannes published in The Reporter, and sent copies to seven CBC producers across the country. The article by Mannes provided additional information about the impact of the record in the USA. She wrote, 'It took six months after the Canadian broadcast for a New York station, WLIB, to run it, and since then a few other stations across the country have plucked up their courage. WLIB got the record from Radio Rarities Inc., and a distributor named Dauntless International, two small companies so swamped with orders they don't know what hit them.'33 While the feared international incident did not happen, the record did cause considerable anger on the right wing of political opinion and concerns over the legal position of the CBC in the minds of some. There is evidence that by this time the Corporation had begun to seek clarification about its responsibilities, if any, in the sale of records and the broadcasting of the production. NBC, which had requested a tape of the show so that interested executives might listen to it, provided in return the services of its legal department; but the inquiries unearthed no more information than Gould had already published in the Times. 34

On 21 January, the most comprehensive discussion of The Investigator yet or since appeared in Counterattack, a weekly newsletter published in New York for the propose of combatting communism.35 Its editors, mainly Vincent Hartnett, had created the book Red Channels, an influential listing of persons and organizations believed to be communist or sympathetic to communist aims. Counterattack influenced the hiring practices of institutions sensitive to public opinion such as the networks, the motion picture studios and advertising agencies, and supplied information to anti-communist pressure groups. The newsletter's researchers were already familiar with Ship because they had investigated the Radio Writers Guild, in which he was active, and had declared it a communist-led union. They had also followed and condemned Ship's efforts, until he was deported, in the establishment of a new union, the Television Writers of America.36 When The Investigator began to sell in record stores in many parts of the USA, Counterattack hurried to marshall forces against it.

The lead article, entitled 'Party Line Hit Parade' began, 'This story will seem unbelievable: a straight Party-line LP recording, the work of a deported Communist, may gross better than a half-million dollars in sales and become a smash hit.' The article reported that the work was aimed at Senator Joe McCarthy and all congressional investigative committees, that the President had enjoyed it, and that if it were not for Counterattack, the recording might have remained unopposed.

There follows an accurate and full statement of the plot of the play, the best research yet done on the shadowy production history of the recording, an analysis of anticipated sales, a review of the response of the left-wing press to the recording and a survey of radio broadcasts of the drama. As well, the Editors reported that they had contacted CBC officials who claimed that the CBC 'had no legal control over matters after the original broadcast was made. They said they were just not in the picture.' But it is difficult to see how the CBC knew where they stood at that time. In fact, there is evidence that the Corporation did not look into the legal questions related to the recording and subsequent broadcasts until late February, about two months after Gould first raised the issue and a month after Counterattack appeared.

In this connection, there is a memo in the CBC file dated 24 February from F. Willard Savignac, Executive Assistant (Legal) to Charles Jennings, Director of Programmes, dealing, as he stated it, '. . . with the legal tangle surrounding the bootleg record.' After quoting relevant copyright law, Savignac concluded that it would be relatively easy to prohibit the sale or broadcast of the record in Canada. Interestingly, he reminded Jennings that since copies were provided on request by the CBC to parties in the USA and Canada, the CBC could be held to have contributed to the proliferation of the tapes. This, and the fact that the CBC had purchased rights only for a single broadcast (which was its standard practice), led him to advise the CBC 'to let sleeping dogs lie.' This was the position which the CBC took when the unions raised questions about their rights in the matter. While Ship claimed, both at this time and in the introduction to a later published version of the play, that Bubbers and Colquitt had worked out agreements with the unions, what little evidence there is, in fact, suggests otherwise.37

The 21 January issue of Counterattack concludes with an elaboration of the strategy with which the Editors hoped to combat 'all the praise heaped on Ship's "brilliant satire."' Their first tactic was to subvert the notion that Ship's work was original, by suggesting that it was merely a reworking of a 'compendium of skits' (actually burlesques) created in the twenties by Charles Erskine Scott Wood for the left-wing intellectual periodical, Masses. In the analysis which follows, the attempt was to show how Wood's dialogues, which imagine historical figures in conversation about current issues, resemble Ship's drama, thereby rendering it derivative. Actually, Wood's dialogues, which were gathered and successfully published by Vanguard Press under the title, Heavenly Discourse, bear some resemblance to Ship's play, but no more than do the burlesque sections of comedies by Aristophanes. The significant and unmentioned parallel exists in the shared attitude which informs the work, in humanism and respect for wit, learning and courage.

Counterattack's second tactic was more direct: 'Write to President Eisenhower in the White House, Washington, D.C.,' readers were told. 'Ask for a public and personal statement on the reports being circulated that he thoroughly enjoyed The Investigator now that its Communist authorship and Party-line inspiration is evident.' Readers were also enjoined to write their state senators and local record stores. Some did more than that.

On 28 January, a week after the relevant issue of Counterattack appeared, an unidentified young woman deposited a package on the guard's desk, at the entrance to the Department of Justice in Washington.38 An agent found that it contained a recording of The Investigator and a recent column by Ed Sullivan in which he had written that 'the author of the bootleg record from Canada had been identified by six witnesses as a Commie Party member, before he copped a Fifth Amendment plea.' (In fact, four of the witnesses had named him after his hearing before HUAC, and two of those after he had left the country.) The agent wrote a report on the recording for his superior, who boiled down the two-page summary of the plot and sent it through channels with a review of Ship's career in the USA. On 8 February the Attorney General sent the report which he entitled 'A Communist attempt to disaffect personnel of Immigration and Naturalization Service / Internal Security' to J. Edgar Hoover. Had Ship known, he would have been pleased. However, the following week there were other repercussions related to the sale of the recording which were less pleasant for Ship.

The American Legion had used its influence to stop the broadcast of the recording on KRGA, which served the area around Eugene, Oregon. According to articles in several papers in the region,39 the objections had been made on two grounds: first, it was contended that the play was subversive because it ridiculed congressional investigations; and second, it was claimed that money from the sale of the broadcast would go to a communist author or to the Communist Party. The Oregon Journal had telephoned Ship, and quoted his reply to the charges: 'It is a typical example of the kind of hatchet technique the American Legion has been engaging in whenever writers or actors have exercised their right of dissent.' He added that it was because of the Legion that he had lost jobs as writer for The Jackie Gleason Show and for Bride for a Day, the two shows for which he had written during the protracted period of deportation proceedings (from the fall of 1951 until July 1953).

While the controversy over the recording stimulated record sales, it may also have soured Ship's feeling for life in America. Although he wrote several radio plays for CBC during this period, he found it necessary to work for an advertising agency for additional income. Whatever the cause, he left for England soon after.

The Investigator was broadcast in the U.K. on the BBC Home Service in April 1955. It was praised by one writer as '. . . one of the most brilliant pieces of writing and production I have ever heard on radio. . . . No summary can do justice to the satiric brilliance and deadly verisimilitude of this contemporary cartoon in sound. It is yet another indication of the vitality that skilled writing, production and acting can give to sound radio in the hands of professional practitioners.'

In 1956, Ship rewrote The Investigator as a curious amalgam of novel and drama by rendering the dramatic dialogue indirect and by transforming the stage directions into short descriptive passages. It was published with several excellent caricatures of McCarthy by Ronald Searle. Thirteen years later, in 1969, it was this edition (with other illustrations) which was finally published in the United States. Both editions contain an Introduction in which Ship confirms that about 100,000 copies of the recording were sold, although he adds little about its production history. The gleeful tone of the sections dealing with the recording and its possible influence on McCarthy's career is unmistakable. But so was his serious concern for the continuation of McCarthyism in America. Of course, it is that danger which is one reason for the enduring value of the work. It is quite true that some of the topical allusions must now be explained to those unfamiliar with the period; however, it does appear that the work stands without this knowledge. This is true because McCarthy has taken his place in history alongside of Torquemada, Titus Oates and the others, and because Reuben Ship found a way to imagine that development within the world of an enduring fiction.


 

Notes

A PALPABLE HIT: A STUDY OF THE IMPACT OF REUBEN SHIP'S THE INVESTIGATOR

Gerry Gross

1 'Theatre, Propaganda and Criticism,' McGill Daily 2 Nov 1938
Return to article

2 TOBY GORDON RYAN, Stage Left Toronto: CTR Publications, 1981 p 91
Return to article

3 Correspondence: WILL ALLISTER to Gerry Gross 18 Nov 1987. After WWII, Allister (who had been captured and interned by the Japanese) knew Ship in Hollywood
Return to article

4 JOHN HERD THOMPSON with ALAN SEAGER, Canada 1922-1939: Decades of Discord Toronto: McClelland 1985 pp 86-107
Return to article

5 ROBERT COLEMAN, review of It's About time by Reuben Ship and others, New York Daily Post 1 April 1942
Return to article

6 IRVING BRECHER, interviewed by Gerry Gross, 23 Jan 1988
Return to article

7 The Investigator in All the Bright Company, ed Howard Fink and John Jackson, Kingston and Toronto: Quarry Press and CBC Enterprises, 1987 pp 237-8
Return to article

8 FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIONS, United States Department of Justice, file no. 100-364639 (271 pages); secured under provisions of the Freedom of Information / Privacy Act, 24 April 1989 'Summary Report' Los Angeles: 30 Oct 1951. This is a six-page report which includes testimony given by Ship in Executive Session before the HUAC hearing, a statement of his connections with the Communist Party, a description of activities in the radio Writers Guild (all censored), a summary of his speech and a report on the ASP and affiliated organizations. 'The Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts Sciences and Professions "was one of the most potent Communist Fronts. This Committee [which] was created in my office of the Daily Worker and largely at my instigation ... obtained the cooperation of scores of non-communists in this Red controlled organization."' (Louis F. Budenz) Since the quotation explicitly would allow Ship to have participated as a non-Communist, one wonders why it was included in the file. Subsequent references to the files will be to FBI followed by the document title and the date
Return to article

9 FBI 'Radio in a Free Culture' 20 July 1947
Return to article

10 FBI 'Communist Infiltration into the Radio Industry' 20 April 1949
Return to article

11 'Reds in Your Living Room,' American Mercury, 28 July 1953 pp 55-62
Return to article

12 JOHN COGLEY, Report on Blacklisting, New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1971 pp 143-154
Return to article

13 COMMUNIST INFILTRATION OF HOLLYWOOD MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY: PART 5, United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Un-American Activities, Los Angeles, California 24 Sept 1951 p 1772
Return to article

14 The Investigator p 256
Return to article

15 IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, United States Department of Justice, File No. A07563412 (174 pages) secured under provisions of the Freedom of Information/Privacy Act, 10 March 1988 'Deportation Proceedings': testimony of Paul Marion, 4 Nov 1952 pp 10-48; testimony of Owen Vincent, 4 Nov 1954 pp 49-77. Subsequent references will be to INS followed by the title of the document and the date.
Return to article

16 INS 'Board of Immigration Appeals' (file 4-7563412) hearing date 20 April 1953; decision given 11 May 1953
Return to article

17 INS (correspondence): HEARING OFFICER to Ada Ship [Reuben's first wife], 20 July 1953. 'Demand is hereby made upon you for the delivery of the Alien, Reuben Ship into the custody of an officer. . . .' Ada had been made surety upon the posting of a $5,000 bond
Return to article

18 INS 'Warrant-Deportation of Alien, 24 July 1953.' 'Reuben Ship aka John Davis ... is subject to deportation under the following provision of laws of the United States: the Act of October, 1918 as amended, in that he has been, after entry, an alien who was a member of the Communist Party of the United States.' In regard to the alias, John Davis, it is possible to say that the name was derived from his mother's maiden name, and that it appears in routine forms used by the US Justice Department to identify Ship. I can find no other instances of its use with one exception: The authors of the manuscript of We Beg to Differ, a topical revue which Ship and Mel Torchin wrote for production in Montreal by the New Theatre Group in 1939, are given as Reuben Davis and Mel Torchin. The manuscript is in the New York Public Library Billy Rose Collection. Many writers in Hollywood used aliases after they were blacklisted, so it might be that Ship did as well
Return to article

19 Correspondence: Reuben Ship to Aubrey and Pauline Finn 27 July 1953
Return to article

20 THOMAS C. REEVES, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy New York: Stein and Day, 1985; see especially Chapter 21 'A National Obsession' and Chapter 22 'Point of Order'
Return to article

21 REEVES p 630
Return to article

22 Investigator p 265
Return to article

23 Investigator p 264
Return to article

24 BARRY MORSE in conversation with Gerry Gross, Montreal 18 Nov 1988
Return to article

25 Dominion of Canada, Debates of the House of Commons 1953-1954 Session, vol 6 Ottawa: Queen's Printer 1954 pp 5531-5532
Return to article

26 'McCarthy is Burlesqued on Canadian Network' 1 June 1954 p 18 col 3
Return to article

27 INS (correspondence): DISTRICT DIRECTOR to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 20 July 1953 '. . . because of the circumstances in the subject's case it is noted that you desire advance information as to the place and time of the deportation'
Return to article

28 BURTON ROSCOE, 'Bootleg Disc is Termed Red Propaganda,' Newark Star Ledger 6 Jan 1955 p 93; in FBI 'Communist Infiltration of the Radio and Television Industry' 16 May 1955, Roscoe stated that he had a tape recording of the CBC broadcast. He described the work as a piece of blatant Communist propaganda directed against the Congress of the United States
Return to article

29 The Investigator: a Satire in Dialogue, np: Oriole Editions, 1969 p 15
Return to article

30 lbid p 20 col 4
Return to article

31 TRB, 'Washington Wire,' The New Republic 31 Jan 1955 p 2
Return to article

32 MARYA MANNES, 'Channels: Radio's Rut,' The Reporter 10 Feb 1955 pp 44-46
Return to article

33 A memo from John Dunlop, Supervisor of International Exchange to Charles Jennings (3 Jan 1955) mentions that NBC had requested the tape and summarizes the findings of its legal department.
Return to article

34 The New Counterattack: Facts to Combat Communism vol 9 no 3, 21 Jan 1955 pp 9-12
Return to article

35 Counterattack 7 Aug 1953 vol 7 no 32
Return to article

36 In the 1969 edition published by Oriole Press, Ship mentions that Colquitt and Bubbers made arrangements to pay the actors and musicians. Neither ACTRA nor the Toronto Musicians Association is able to verify the claim. Barry Morse remembers that the CBC declined to take legal action, as the files indicate, but he recalls that he never got paid for any but the original broadcast
Return to article

37 FBI 'Communist Attempt to Disaffect Personnel' 14 Feb 1955. The report refers to the earlier incident
Return to article

38 'Proof Awaited by Radio Man,' Eugene Register-Guard 9 Feb 1955 p 3-A; 'Somewhat Subversive-Legion Tag Keeps Record off Oregon Station' Oregon Journal 6 Feb 1955 p 1
Return to article

39 LAURENCE GILLIAM, 'A Nightmare Tribunal Investigates,' Radio Times 19 Aug 1955 p 9
Return to article